Panasonic is certainly doing its part to keep plasma technology alive and well in the HDTV market, with plans to release five new plasma lines throughout 2009. The mid-level S1 Plasma Series, available now, lacks the THX certification and Viera Cast Web feature you'll find in higher-end Panasonic models, but it does use Panasonic's new, more efficient Neo PDP that's designed to deliver better blacks and higher light output while reducing power consumption. The S1 Series currently includes four models, ranging in size from 42 to 54 inches.
We have not performed a hands-on review of the TC-P50S1, but here is an overview of the TV's features. This 50-inch, 1080p plasma is Energy Star¬-certified. Its connection panel includes three HDMI, two component video, and one PC input, as well as a single RF input to access the internal ATSC, NTSC, and Clear-QAM tuners. The HDMI inputs accept both 1080p/60 and 1080p/24 signals, and one HDMI input is located on the side panel for easy access. Also on the side panel is an SD card slot through which you can view digital photos; this model can't play back MPEG-2/AVCHD video, a feature that is available in the step-up lines.
The TC-P50S1 has a decent amount of picture adjustments but lacks some of the advanced options you'll find in other displays. Picture settings include five picture modes, three color-temperature options (but no advanced white-balance controls to fine tune the color temperature), video and MPEG noise-reduction, and a C.A.T.S. feature that automatically adjusts the picture based on ambient light. This model does not have the 24p Direct In mode found in the higher-end models, which lets you dictate whether to output 24p film content at 60 Hz (which involves 3:2 pulldown) or 48 Hz (which involves 2:2 pulldown and produces less judder). The TC-P50S1 does have several features to prevent or counteract the effects of short-term image retention (a common plasma concern), including a pixel orbiter, a scrolling bar, and the option to use gray sidebars instead of black. There are five aspect-ratio options, and you can configure the TV to display a 1080i/1080p image with no overscan.
The TC-P50S1 has a simple gloss-black frame, with a detachable stand and speakers that run along the bottom panel. The audio setup menu includes bass, treble, and balance controls, as well as an option to enable basic surround processing (gone is the BBE VIVA HD3D processing found in previous Panasonic models) and a volume leveler that deals specifically with reducing level variations between the external inputs.
Read about the high points and the low points of the TC-P50S1 on Page 2.
• Panasonic plasmas are consistently good performers, and the new Neo PDP purportedly has an even better contrast ratio than previous models while also being more energy-efficient.
• The TC-P50S1 has a 1080p resolution and accepts 1080p/24 signals through its HDMI inputs.
• Plasma TVs do not suffer from viewing-angle limitations or motion-blur issues.
• The SD card slot allows for easy JPEG playback.
• Plasma TVs generally aren't as bright as LCDs and therefore aren't the best choice for a really bright room with lots of potential light reflections.
• The TC-P50S1 lacks the THX certification, Viera Cast, and 24p Direct In mode available in higher-end Panasonic lines.
• The SD card slot does not support MP3 or video playback.
The TC-P50S1 is a solid mid-level HDTV offering. It lacks the marquee features and design elements that distinguish Panasonic's higher-end 2009 lines -- like wireless HD transmission, THX certification, and Viera Cast Web connectivity - but it should be a fine choice for the person who simply wants an affordable and good-performing 50-inch 1080p TV.